Black Lives Matter protesters may again face charges after meeting with police breaks down

The 17 Black Lives Matter protesters arrested last July may again face prosecution after a meeting between police and protesters broke down Wednesday over a logistics disagreement.

The protesters, who were charged with misdemeanors, were scheduled sit down to talk over their differences with Portland police Wednesday in a so-called restorative justice program. The dialogue was a condition of a settlement agreement struck with Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman, which would ultimately result in the state dropping the criminal charges against the protesters.  

But protesters could not agree with police and prosecutors Wednesday over whether the conversation should be held in a single large session or two separate ones. The clash casts doubt on what would likely have been the first time a restorative justice process was used to resolve a civil disobedience case in Maine.

There may be another attempt at similar session,  Ackerman said at a noon press conference. But two hours later, the deputy district attorney emailed all the protesters’ lawyers saying that she “filed motions to restore all 17 of these cases to docket,” which would re-open the possibility of prosecution.

Tina Nadeau, who represents protester Sarah Lazare, said that this move would require a separate hearing and she and the other lawyers will oppose it.

The protesters were unwilling to split into two groups Wednesday, although Ackerman said that this arrangement had been agreed to over email before hand. The protesters also asked that a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and N.A.A.C.P. not observe the session, she said. Police Chief Michael Sauschuck called it a show of “bad faith.”

“When we got there this morning what I saw was a group that wanted to continue to protest,” Sauschuck said.

Fred Van Liew, of the Portland Center for Restorative Justice, had said Wednesday that he could conduct the session as a single large group, both sides said.

Ackerman’s account was contested by a lawyer for one of the protesters and the Portland Racial Justice Congress, which organized the 2016 Black Lives Matter protest after police killed two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and a black former Army veteran shot dead five Dallas police officers.

Following the protest, 18 people, including one minor, were charged with obstructing a public way and some received additional charges of failing to disperse, and obstructing government administration.

Nadeau said the conditions for the restorative justice session were “unilaterally imposed” by Ackerman and that there was no “explicit agreement” to the terms.  

Nadeau noted that her client, who now lives in Chicago, traveled a long distance to attend the session. All of the protesters have already paid $140 to a victim’s compensation fund and another $60 to cover the costs of the restorative justice session, she said.

“We were not adequately informed by law enforcement that splitting up was a required condition to complete the process,” the group said in a Facebook post.